Van Huffelen: EU must offer more support to overseas territories

TheEuropean Union (EU) must do more to contribute to the devel­opment of overseas coun­tries and territories (OCTs), particularly in terms of sus­tainability and innovation. Caretaker State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Alex­andra van Huffelen empha­sised this in her speech at the annual high-level meeting of the Forum for Overseas Countries and Territories in Brussels last Thursday. The EU announced that it has al­located additional funds for regional cooperation.

In her speech, Van Huffelen stressed the significant stra­tegic value of the relation­ship between the EU and the OCTs, especially amid the current global shifts in the world order. “We believe this means that the OCTs represent strategic assets for the international action of the EU and the promotion of its values. They are essen­tial to the influence of the European Union around the globe,” she said.

“We appreciate that the Eu­ropean Union is taking the initiative to provide training and technical assistance for OCTs. However, it is also clear that more action and support is needed. Proce­dures and regulations are complex and time-consum­ing. The small governments, with their limited capacities, cannot independently align with the strategic agendas.” Van Huffelen proposed en­hancing several measures to combat this issue: providing targeted information to the member states and oversea territories on EU activities in the region; pro-actively in­volving the OCTs in said ac­tivities; and making it easier for them to participate. “And it is of vital importance to aid them in accessing horizontal programmes, such as the LIFE Programme and the Innovation Fund,” she add­ed. The LIFE Programme is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment and cli­mate action.

Van Huffelen believes that last year’s appointment of Special EU Envoy for the Caribbean Netherlands Edison Rijna, who was also present at the forum, is a big step in the right direction, as “his mission is to establish a strong, structural and inclu­sive collaboration between the BES islands, the Euro­pean Union, the United Na­tions and the countries and islands in the region.”

Van Huffelen also called attention to issues that are important for the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom, such as climate and connectivity. Her suggestion: “Let’s con­nect and make things hap­pen.”

She said the island nations are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. “We can­not afford to waste time and should help them face the climate crisis by contributing to energy transition and cli­mate adaptation.”

Another challenge is that of connectivity, Van Huffelen said. “And by that I mean: connectivity in mobility, of people and goods, through water and through the sky. But also connectivity in the digital sense.” She proposed making faster Internet avail­able via new technology and exploring interesting new fly­ing techniques.

The EU announced that it has allocated additional funds for regional coopera­tion. The EU has allocated 21 million euros for the Ca­ribbean region, with an extra 1.15 million per OCT. Ad­ditionally, the islands in the Kingdom of the Netherlands signed financial agreements for EU funding. Aruba se­cured 14 million euros for E-government development and Bonaire received 4.6 million for waste water man­agement. Previously, Cura­cao, St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius also received EU funds.

The OCT Forum is held an­nually and this year’s meet­ing took place February 26-29. Participants are coun­tries and overseas territo­ries linked to one of the EU member states, representa­tives of those EU member states, and members of the European Parliament.

The six islands in the Ca­ribbean part of the King­dom of the Netherlands all have OCT status. They were therefore present in Brus­sels with their own delega­tions, as was the EU special envoy for Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius. Besides the Netherlands, Member States France and Denmark were also present together with their OCTs. A total of 13 countries (islands) have OCT status.

The Daily Herald.

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